Summary: 'I can't stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations. Terrible places full of lost luggage and lost souls. And then there's unrequited love.'
Author Notes: originally written April 2002
Story Notes: spoiler for The Body
To be precise, it was the Greyhound station in downtown LA.
It wasn't quite what she'd been expecting. Although she wasn't entirely sure what she had been expecting. She really ought to have thought about it more but she'd avoided the whole issue. She'd concentrated on living in the now as that's what all the books said you should do.
Perhaps, if she'd put more thought into it earlier, she wouldn't have ended up in the downtown LA bus station.
It looked the same as she remembered, more or less. The same tired vending machines offering sugar rushes to bored travellers. The same bucket moulded chairs made out of some kind of garish orange plastic. It probably wasn't the same overworked woman behind the counter. She'd just glanced at the ticket and gestured back to the main concourse.
"They'll call it when it's time," she'd said and turned to the next impatient questioner.
Last time she'd been here, though, she was sure that beyond the doors there had been tarmac radiating heat and the sodium glare of streetlights. The clash of gears as buses swung into their bays or revved up and reversed out. People in the out-moded grey uniform doing stuff to the vehicles or yelling at the passengers. There certainly hadn't been a void. She'd never really thought about that, either. She'd always assumed a void was just a darkness but the way her eyes slipped away from looking out of the windows or doors, the way she just could never focus on it was making her realise things were not what she had assumed they would be.
Looking about inside, avoiding looking into the nothingness beyond, she noticed the people were not quite the same as on her last visit although they bore some similarities. There were the experienced travellers who were focussing on books or magazines or anything other than the waiting area, used to tuning out the noise. There were a few families: harassed mothers stuffing children with candy to quiet them even though it would make them either hyperactive or sick. Old people, looking around nervously. She couldn't help but notice that some of the people were rather oddly dressed though.
Holding her purse close to her abdomen, she walked through the crowd, looking for an empty seat in which to wait the call. Which was when the final jarring fault slipped into her consciousness. Not one single person had any luggage. Why would all these people be here, waiting to travel, without baggage?
There was an empty chair, with thankfully no signs of anyone having split a drink on it, or left anything horrible under it. As she sat down, she glanced at the young man sat opposite her. He was deep in a book, holding it up close to his wire-rim glasses. One hand kept pushing his dark blond fringe out of his face. He seemed harmless enough, and he wasn't interested in her, more importantly. She wanted to be calm, rational, to think things though. She was pretty sure she knew where she was, which was more than a little disappointing.
"I was really hoping for better than a bus station," she said to herself.
"It's purgatory," a familiar voice told her in an English accent. Looking up, startled, she saw a very familiar pair of pale blue eyes staring at her.
"Hello Joyce," the young bookish man said.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Yes. You hit me on the head with an ax, 'get the hell away from my daughter', you made me hot chocolate with marshmallows once and so on."
"Yes. And no."
The young man closed the slim book and slipped it into an inner pocket of his tweed suit. Joyce went to shake her head at him but something hurt when she moved, so she settled for frowning. The face was the same, half-hidden behind glasses and long hair but the voice was different. It was how Rupert talked, how she always thought English people should talk, instead of the rough slurred accent she was used to from Spike. Then there were the eyes. The same blue but these spoke of pain and suffering and torment.
"I don't understand?" she asked him. He sighed and the shrug was completely Spike.
"I'm William. I'm part of Spike, I suppose. Look, will this make you feel better about it?"
As he asked, his voice coarsened, his hair slicked itself back and turned a dirty white. The tweed jacket lengthened and darkened until it became a long black coat. The trousers clung to him suddenly. The manicured nails gained scraped black polish and a packet of cigarettes appeared in one hand. Sitting forward in his seat, elbows resting on his thighs, Joyce realised she was looking at Spike. Or his likeness.
"You, er," Joyce gestured at his face, "still have the glasses."
"Oh, bloody hell!"
He fumbled them off with a glare of contempt although she noticed he folded them up carefully and tucked them into a pocket. He tried to look coolly at her.
"Can't get contacts, y'know? Cuz of the 'grr' thing, hurts like hell if you've got them in and, well, anyway..."
"So you're...?" Joyce prompted.
He slouched back in his seat and lit a cigarette. "I'm Spike's, well, soul, if you're going to use pouncy terms for it. I'm his astral body."
"And this is...?" Joyce gestured around them.
"Purgatory, I said already. Well, ok, more like a waiting room but 'purgatory' is just such a great word. Got drama to it. This place really ought to get little leaflets made up, y'know? Sort of a 'Your Questions Answered' kinda thing."
Joyce looked at him. He was fiddling with his lighter and looking about restlessly. She had questions. Well, she had some pretty unpleasant conclusions starting to shout for her attention, making her head spin. She'd face them in a bit. Start with the little questions and go from there, she told herself. Make sure she was right before she made a fool of herself.
"So why a bus station?"
"Modern milieu, I think. When I got here it was St Pancras station. All gothic brick and steam trains. It's just symbolic. Let's find something that screams of timeless waiting, they thought. 'I can't stand bus stations: full of lost luggage and lost souls' I think someone said once."
"Lost?" Joyce was pleased that her voice didn't waiver. Spike gestured at the voucher she was clutching.
"Oh, you're alright, Joyce luv. You've got a ticket out of here."
She looked down at it again. It looked like a normal travel voucher, like a plane boarding pass. It had her name - in full - the date and 'Sunnydale' in the 'From' field. The 'To' field was blank though.
"But it doesn't say where I'm going!"
"I'm sure you'll find out when you get there." Spike shrugged.
Joyce fidgeted slightly. She looked at Spike again. Except he'd called himself William. Maybe he was just a figment: someone her mind had supplied to supply her with answers. Maybe she was externalising her inner discussion using the only other person she knew who was de--...well, she'd think about that in a bit.
"So why are you here? I mean, I thought..." her voice trailed off as she suddenly wondered if it was polite ask what she'd been thinking.
"You thought I didn't have a soul? Course I bloody do. Everyone does. It's just mine's not in my body. Not properly. Do you really want to know all this?"
Joyce nodded. She wanted to know, wanted to think about this and then maybe she could face that...other detail. Spike/William leant forward in his chair again, looking up at her. She was struck again by the intensity of the pain in his eyes. It was something she'd seen fleetingly on him before, normally hidden beneath sardonic anger. She suspected the look he was giving her now would have been classed a 'puppy dog look' by her daughters. Her daughters...oh Goodness, how would they...? No, think about that later.
"You know a bit about mysticism, right? I mean, lots of seventies stuff about comparative religions? Way I see it, humans have three bodies." He held out slim fingers and began counting them off. "The material, the flesh and blood; the astral or the soul, and the sidereal which links the other two together. It's the sidereal that animates the material, the animus, the energy. When a vampire is made, the demon usurps the sidereal. It animates the flesh. With the links broken the soul, the astral body, has to go somewhere so it comes here-"
"Why does it have to go somewhere?"
He looked exasperated at her interruption. "Would you prefer the idea that the air all around you is full of souls?"
"Well, what about the idea that it dissipates?"
"Oh please! You've met Angel? All 'a pesky curse gave me back my soul so now I'm going to mooch about spoiling everyone else's fun' guy? Well, where do you think his soul was when he didn't have it? I'll tell you where: bloody hanging about here making my time pass even more slowly than normal! Every time Angelus beat me the great poof would apologise. I was sodding glad when the witch re-cursed him, I tell you."
"Angel beat you?"
"Well, yeah, course. That's not the point. The point is, when the body is undead, yet still animated, the soul gets to hang around here for all bloody eternity. Or until your daughter puts a stake in the body."
Buffy. What was she going through? Had she been the one to...or maybe Dawn did? She'd be more likely to get back from school before Buffy did. Was it too awful to hope Buffy got home first? Maybe a neighbour came by...? Maybe someone else would sort it all out.
Oh dear, she was diverting herself from the key point again, wasn't she? Concentrate, Joyce, you'll have to face up to the situation in a minute. It's not like you'll be going back home. Or could she...?
"So what happens to me next?"
Spike shrugged. "To each according to their own, I think. All a bit fuzzy, really."
She'd run out of questions, run out of avoidance tactics. She looked at the blank 'to' field in her ticket again. She'd really not thought about it. Maybe that meant she would end up in a void, the empty nothingness produced by a lack of belief.
"Joyce? I'm sure you'll go somewhere nice," Spike/William remarked quietly.
Looking up she almost laughed to see his serious, concerned face watching her. So like the Spike she'd always felt maternal about, the eyes that could always see so well, but stripped of the desire to use the vulnerabilities he was so good at spotting.
"How can you know that?" she asked.
"You're a good woman, Joyce. Always wanting to see the best in people. Always caring. Compassionate. Taking in all your daughter's strays, giving them a home."
"What do you mean? How can you know that? Aren't you...?"
Spike/William smiled and flicked backwards through the book he was holding. "Here we are, last Christmas. Come and see."
Hesitantly, Joyce moved to the seat next to him, looked into the book. Where the words should be there were images. Shifting and blurry, not like tv pictures at all somehow. The Christmas meal. She'd been so worried it wouldn't go right, none of the others had family to go to and she wanted them to have a nice night, then she'd burnt the pie. Buffy was trying to help her and...
"I'm dead, aren't I?" There. She'd said it.
Spike shrugged. "It's not so bad, you know."
Glancing down at the book again, she saw the events flickering through to the next morning and she saw herself slip into the dirty mess of Spike's crypt, trying to be as silent as possible as she left a grocery bag of chocolate, chips and whiskey on his chair. She hadn't know what to get him, even if she should get him anything, and she hadn't wanted to embarrass him by giving him them when he was awake. But he was always so alone, with nowhere to go and no-one to make him welcome. This book must show whatever William was thinking of, whatever he was replaying in his head.
"I think I enjoyed the booze most," he said now, "Did you get Giles to suggest the brand?"
"Can you...can you feel what he feels? I mean, you. I mean...oh....I don't know how to refer to..."
"Spike. Yes, we're the same person, after all, just forced apart. He doesn't miss me: he still loves, still hates and still wants what I wanted."
He snapped the book shut, so she couldn't see what images it was replaying now. She thought she had glimpsed something golden. He nodded towards the departure gates as he tucked the book away so she couldn't take if from him. Would she get one of those, or was it just for people like him, stuck in this half-world? "They're calling you, Joyce."
She realised the tannoy was asking for her, telling her to go to gate 17. She wondered what was at Gate 17. She stood, hefted her purse firmly onto her shoulder and looked down at the young man. He was leaning forward, looking down and picking at his nails.
"Well, I guess that's my number up," she said, trying to smile.
He glanced up again. His hair was already softening back to fair waves, falling over his face. So lost, so alone, so stranded. She glanced towards the gate where she was meant to go, then back at him.
"What do you want, you and him?" she asked again, prolonging this moment so she didn't have to face what might be beyond the gate. She expected him to say something smart, some clever comment delivered with a smirk. Booze and cigarettes, or a working CD player. Maybe to walk in the sun, although he'd always seemed happy enough to be in the dark. He looked back down, spoke to his boots.
"I don't want to be stuck between worlds. I want to love, and be loved in return. I want to belong."
It should have been obvious. It had so often been written on his - on Spike's face - when he hung about her house. And as he hadn't been loved, he'd made himself unloveable. Rejected everyone before they could reject him.
last call for Joyce Summers
She rested one hand on his shoulder, squeezed briefly and headed for the gateway.